After being at war for 15 years, the Pentagon is shaking up its medal awarding system by creating new awards for drone operators and cyber warriors. It will be reviewing the Silver Star and Service Cross awards as well.
The changes come as criticism has increased over how medals are being awarded and whether some veterans who were given medals actually qualified for higher awards and honors.
A move to recognize drone pilots and service members who contribute to war efforts outside the combat zone was actually already proposed by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013. But the idea very swiftly triggered an outcry from veterans who took offense that the newly proposed award would rank higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Panetta's successor, Chuck Hagel, shelved the idea as a result and also ordered a review of the current awards system for veterans.
Although the Pentagon found no reason to believe that troops received medals and honors inappropriately, the review did reveal that as the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, commanders were also increasingly approving higher awards for their troops.
Under this new proposal from the Pentagon, drone operators who contribute to battle directly without actually being in the combat zone physically will be eligible to receive a quarter-inch bronze letter “R,” which they may attach to their noncombat ribbon. This “R” is similar to the “V” that troops currently receive for valor and may also be awarded to cyber warriors who engage in “futuristic battle techniques that have a "hands-on, immediate and direct" impact on a particular combat operation.
A second proposed award is a “C” device for troops who actually served in combat. Currently, awards are usually given to military personnel who have served in war zones but may not necessarily have seen actual combat.
The review of existing awards as well as the introduction of these new awards for drone pilots is quite timely as the military is increasingly making use of unmanned devices in war zones and though they do not engage in combat physically, operators of those drones do make an impact on the ground just as much as troops do.
The Pentagon is expected to make an official announcement on Thursday with the proposed changes, which will take up to a year to be adopted fully.